Since the beginning of the pandemic, businesses across the world have been forced to think creatively in an attempt to preserve their employees’ mental health and avoid burnout. Furthermore, the shift to remote work has caused both employers and employees to question the traditional face-time requirements of the modern workplace. As thoughts about how people get work done continue to evolve, switching to a four-day workweek could be a plausible solution. In this article, we’ll discuss some key considerations for businesses that are contemplating the shift to a four-day workweek, including:
- Origin of the shorter workweek
- Pros of the four-day workweek
- Cons of the four-day workweek
- How to implement a four-day workweek
Shifting to a shorter workweek allows employees to enjoy long weekends or a day off midweek, which in turn gives them more time to pursue personal interests or spend time with their families. This enables them to rest and recuperate from work-related stress. However, despite the many benefits of moving to the four-day workweek, there are also a few downsides that businesses need to consider before making the change.
Origin of the shorter workweek
In the U.S., the debate over a shorter workweek has been ongoing for decades. Prior to 1926 when the Ford Motor Company standardized the five-day, Monday-to-Friday work pattern, the common practice was a six-day workweek, where Sunday was the only day off. Ford’s theory was that working fewer hours per week with the same pay would increase productivity because workers would likely put in more effort.
While this theory was largely proven true, many business leaders believe reducing work hours even further would be problematic, especially for some sectors, such as finance and law, which are known for a highly competitive atmosphere where business decisions need to be made quickly. Ultimately, the four-day workweek may not be the final solution for every company, but it is certainly something to consider.
Pros of the four-day workweek
When we think about benefits to the four-day workweek, many people assume it only benefits employees. However, in many cases, these shorter hours can lead to increased productivity and efficiency for businesses as a whole. Not to mention the ability businesses will have to attract top-tier talent to their organizations. With that in mind, here are some of the primary benefits of the four-day workweek include:
Mental health improvements
With the four-day workweek, employees gain back an additional day to spend on personal priorities, such as tending to familial responsibilities or pursuing a hobby they wouldn’t otherwise have time for. It also means people will spend less time exposed to work-related headaches, which can significantly reduce overall stress levels. As a result, employees are likely to be happier and more committed to their jobs, and less likely to take sick leave as they’ll have plenty of time to rest and recover.
Between 2015 and 2019, Iceland conducted a study of 2,500 workers to see if shortened workdays would lead to higher productivity levels. Ultimately, the trials were an overwhelming success and proved that productivity and service provision either remained the same or improved drastically. Since the study’s completion, 85% of Iceland’s workforce are now working shorter hours.
In another study by Stanford University, economics professor John Pencavel found that hourly productivity declines sharply when a person works over 50 hours per week. The study determined that “employees at work for a long time may experience fatigue or stress that not only reduces his or her productivity but also increases the probability of errors, accidents, and sickness that impose costs on the employer.” In a final statement, the study concludes that “these concerns over work stress incline the firm not to extend the work hours of employees, but to curtail them.”
Both studies prove that, if managed correctly, reducing employee work hours allows more time to relax and recover, which in turn creates a more well-rested workforce with employees who feel better and can accomplish more during their time on the job.
Moving to a four-day workweek can also lead to significant cost savings for both the employees and their employer. Employees, for example, could save on commuting costs, childcare, and other homecare expenses. By giving employees more control over their time, employers could benefit from increased sales, lower operating costs, fewer employee-related expenses like commuter benefits and lunch stipends, and even a larger applicant pool for open positions.
Cons of the four-day workweek
As with any big changes in life, some problems are bound to arise as companies experiment with a four-day workweek. Implementing a four-day workweek requires the right support, technology, and workplace culture to be effective. Some of the primary challenges of the shift to the four-day workweek include:
Not for everyone
For some industries, such as retail, restaurants, hospitality, manufacturing, and other service-related jobs where workers are often paid by the hour and must respond to customers, a shortened workweek may not be beneficial. Additionally, it may not be physically possible for workers in these positions to achieve the same results in fewer hours. Overall, it’s easier for industries that rely on knowledge-based work to move to a shorter workweek than it is for jobs that rely on service work.
Even if a shorter workweek is possible for certain businesses, it may have a negative impact on customer satisfaction. In some industries where the norm is to be operational for five (sometimes seven) days a week – reducing these hours may cause frustrating delays for customers, which could have a negative impact on their bottom line. If businesses insist on being open seven days a week, this may require some creative adjustments to ensure teams rotate within their respective four-day workweek.
There are a host of logistical challenges involved with moving to a four-day workweek. For the shift to be successful, businesses will need to rethink standard policies and procedures, such as:
- How they interact with customers
- Scheduling requirements
- Productivity measurements
- Other operational challenges
Furthermore, employees will need to adjust their work habits to accommodate the new schedule, which involves learning to work in a more focused way, having fewer and shorter meetings, and day-to-day distractions will need to be reduced. For some, this could lead to decreased levels of employee engagement and teamwork, as the shift in focus could have a negative impact on company culture and collaboration.
How to implement a four-day workweek
Clarify the parameters of your four-day workweek
When shifting to the four-day workweek, some employers opt to pay employees for a full 40 hours even though they’ll only be working 32, while others extend the four workdays, so the time still equals 40 hours. Some businesses allow individual teams to dictate which day of the week they’ll be omitting, while others choose to set a standard schedule for the entire company. Before making these decisions, organizations should consider their employees input, including how they intend to benefit from the shift to a four-day workweek.
Consider the necessary policies
Human Resources will be instrumental in the shift to a four-day workweek. They’ll help establish clear guidelines and parameters on the program, including local laws and regulations, determining employees that qualify for the modified schedule, and any necessary steps for putting it into place. HR will also need to consider any additional complexities and risk associated with the shift to the four-day workweek, including:
- State overtime laws
- Payroll considerations
- Managing employee leave
- The potential impact to benefits eligibility
- How part-time staff could be affected
- The legal implications of extended workdays
- Any other operational demands that could be impacted
Establish clear expectations
As businesses shift focus from time spent at the office, it’s crucial that they establish clear ways to measure their employees’ success. Be sure to communicate what metrics or deliverables your employees are responsible for and ensure they know when they’re hitting their goals. It’s also important that employees are equipped with all the information necessary to adapt and make this new schedule work, including any new rules, processes, and procedures.
Conduct a trial implementation
Before kickstarting the four-day workweek, organizations should allocate plenty of time to iron out the details of the new program. Then, they should consider conducting a trial implementation to see how the shift will work in practice. This will provide your organization with the opportunity to evaluate the effects on productivity, and employees will have the chance to provide important feedback.
How Global Upside can help
The process of shifting to a four-day workweek can be daunting to HR teams who don’t have the bandwidth or expertise to properly manage all the necessary policy and procedure changes. As employment laws differ between jurisdictions, it’s critical to work with HR specialists to ensure compliance throughout the entire transition. Our services are backed by round-the-clock support from experienced HR experts across the globe. We track and manage all local requirements and keep you up to date on the constantly evolving laws and regulations across the world to ensure your business remains compliant wherever, and however, you operate.